Leipheimer probably doped at 2005 Tour, says ex-boss

"I was caught between a moral obligation and a legal threat," Holczer said

A former team manager of cycling star Levi Leipheimer has claimed the American narrowly escaped a positive test for blood doping during the 2005 Tour de France.

Leipheimer, who currently races with the RadioShack team led by seven-time yellow jersey champion Lance Armstrong, has been accused by his former team manager at Gerolsteiner, Hans-Michael Holczer.

Holczer said during a presentation of his book "Garantiert Positiv" ("Guaranteed Positive") that Leipheimer's blood values during the 2005 Tour "showed a very high probability of manipulation".

The German said the blood readings were so abnormal that he was advised by International Cycling Union (UCI) to take the American off the race.

"It was clear to me: Leipheimer had manipulated," Holczer said Wednesday.

Holczer claimed that the UCI told him during the race's first rest day that Leipheimer's blood readings had an off-score co-efficient of 132.8, only 0.2 under the limit of 133. A normal score is 85-95, and anything over 133 suggests that doping has taken place.

The sport's world ruling body allegedly advised Holczer to try and find a reason to remove Leipheimer from the race.

However the German admitted he did not know how to react, given the fact that one team member, Danilo Hondo, had tested positive earlier that year and that Gerolsteiner would pull the plug in the event of a second positive.

"I was caught between a moral obligation and a legal threat," Holczer said, admitting he felt under huge pressure after Hondo's positive test.

"Ever since then we were sitting on an economic landmine. I was facing total bankruptcy."

Leipheimer went on to finish sixth overall in the 2005 Tour de France, 11:21 behind winner Armstrong. A few weeks later he won the Tour of Germany, notably beating former Tour winner Jan Ullrich.

The Californian finished 13th overall in the 2010 Tour de France.

In September 2007 Gerolsteiner, a German mineral water company, announced it would end its sponsorship of the team at the end of 2008.

It was shortly after the 2008 Tour de France that they suffered their worst doping scandal, when it emerged that both Bernhard Kohl and Stefan Schumacher had tested positive for the new blood-boosting drug CERA EPO (erythropoietin).

Shortly after the Beijing Olympics in August, Schumacher and Italian Davide Rebellin also tested positive for CERA.

© AFP 2010

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